In the beginning of May 2011 one of the most intelligent, to our mind, and spiritually gifted preachers, apologists of Christian faith visited Russia. He has spoken in countries that are trying to drive all the Christians out and to the people that are driving them out.
He has reasoned with kings, queens, and rulers from all over the world. He has even reasoned with the heads of terrorist organizations. Very often he finds himself in a situation when he comes as a peacemaker. It happened in the Middle East and in Asia. We met with Ravi Zacharias in Moscow a day before the convention of the Russian Church of Christian of Evangelical Faith (Pentecostal Churches) where he was invited to speak.
Our readers know some facts of your biography but they are not enough to draw a full picture of you. Let’s talk about your ancestor, who was converted to Christianity. What did it cost to become a Christian for someone who belonged to a Brahmin cast?
From my father’s side the conversion goes back about seven generations, from my mother’s side – five generations. My ancestors were of the orthodox Hindu priesthood that is called Nambudiri. And it was through a woman who was working as a maid for western missionaries. She was fascinated by the teachings of Jesus Christ. This was not unusual in some ways. Many of the people who were attracted to Jesus were fearful of making that commitment because Hinduism is not a simple religion; it is a complex form of many kinds of beliefs, mainly controlled by fear and superstition. And the Christian faith, the Gospel of love, grace, and forgiveness was very attractive to people. She made a commitment to Jesus Christ. She was ostracized from her family, and paid a very heavy price. But even the apostle Thomas, when he came to India, paid with his life. So, after this woman was converted, the next generation became Christians and the family’s name was changed.
Missionaries in India had a struggle identifying completely with the Indians. And in the German-Swiss tradition missionaries would not take communion with the Indian. That’s when my great grandfather who was a lawyer went to court to fight for this issue. And he won the court case. He switched to the Anglican church at that time, where the English would have communion with Indians. So, the tension of being rejected both by the Hindu and having to strain a full assimilation with the western missionaries was a difficult road for a new Christian to walk. Christians are still a minority in India, maybe 5%.
In your life there was a serious moment when you wanted to take your life. What happened?
The biggest pressure that young men face is academic pressure, especially in upper-middle class families. It is not good enough to pass the exam; you have to perform very highly. The highest rate of suicide in India is immediately after the examinations, every year. And I was not interested in studies; I was more interested in sports. But my father was very hard on me. When I wasn’t performing well in my studies the pressure at home was unbearable.
When I was seventeen years old, I tried to take my life. One of my friends had done that, and he succeeded. I tried that and I failed. When I was in a hospital, a Bible was brought to me, and in that hospital room hearing the Scriptures read to me changed my life completely. I invited Christ into my life to become my Savior and Lord. That has been the most dramatic few minutes that shaped all my future. It was not long before all of my family became Christians. It’s very important to remember: you are not a Christian by being born in a Christian family; you are not a Christian if you go to church. You are a Christian when you invite Christ in your life as your Savior. My family was nominally Christian but really didn’t know much about Christ. It is possible to be a religious person without really knowing Christ.
Your story one more time proves that God doesn’t have accidents. But we make decisions about some things in life. Being in Canada you had a choice to make between business career and theology, and you decided to study theology. What influenced this decision?
I was 20 years old when I moved to Canada. I had gone there to study business. But deep in my heart my life changed so much. I was very hungry to do what God wanted me to do. I thought Canada was a Christian country. It is not a Christian country. I met many Canadians who asked me questions about God. I answered their questions, and I saw many responding to Christ. So, I gave up my business career and started to study theology. That made my father even angrier because he had not yet become a Christian. (But a few months after I went to the theological training my father made a decision to come to Christ.) After four years of a degree in theology I moved to the United States and studied philosophy, as I wanted to answer people’s philosophical questions. Later I went on to Cambridge.
Could you call yourself a citizen of the world?
That is the way I look at myself. I’m as comfortable in the East as I am in the West. I go to universities in every culture. And when you listen to the students their basic questions are the same. I’m very comfortable almost everywhere in the world. I love the food of every culture I go to.
Sometimes you come as a peacemaker. And it seems that you may know how to eliminate religious discrimination in different parts of the world.
That has been something that I many times thought about. The odd thing was I never planned on it but it has been a result. Whether it is in the Middle East, or whether it is in Asia. I think it is very important not to enter into the things that divide people. I don’t get into the politics of any country. Politics is a divisive thing. That’s why Jesus came to this earth not as a king. He changed the hearts of people. That’s where we can learn to live without differences. But we have to learn to live peacefully with each other. Anger is a kind of irrationality, and so many people are angry today. And if you can calm their anger you can begin to dialogue peacefully. So many times I find myself in this situation. The Gospel of Jesus Christ is the Gospel of joy, love, peace and hope.
You’ve been to Russia before, what were your most memorable impressions from that trip?
Two meetings I will never forget. One in the Military Academy, the second was with the Faculty of the geopolitical strategy. I remember one particular officer at the Military Academy. As I was speaking he was giving me the choke sign. I will never forget his question when I finished. He said, ‘You keep using the word “God”. What do you mean by that?’ I said to him, ‘Are you an atheist?’ He said, ‘Yes’. I said, ‘What are you denying? When you say there is no God what do you mean?’ We had a wonderful conversation to explain to him who God is.
Then there was another moment, the Head of the Faculty of geopolitical strategy after I presented the defense of Christian faith they were all shaking hands with me. And here’s what he said, ‘I believe what you have told us today is a truth but it’s difficult to change after 70 years of believing a lie’. That was a very powerful statement.
Then I spoke at the University, and I really loved the student interaction. Tough questions, good questions… But you see education does not fill the soul. I had to bring the Gospel with a Russian heart, to fill the people. I always was a great lover of the writings of Feodor Dostoevsky, and I have read other Russian authors. I think the students appreciated that.
But every time I come I notice a big change in Russia. I believe the Russian people are one of the most gifted people in the world. Everything to which they are dedicated: literature, music, sport, they are always on the top, which means if they love Lord Jesus they will love Him with great passion. And that is my prayer for Russia.
Do you think a spoken word or a printed word has power?
It is very powerful. The Bible says in the beginning there was the Word. God gave us the Word. Because when you think about the nature of truth, truth is primarily a characteristic of language. And so, the Word of God, which is the truth, abides forever. When you take away the Word of God from people you are taking away the truth from people. Experiences are good things but they are not the final authority. It is the Word that abides forever. I believe that people of God should be people of the Word of God. In the old days they were called the people of the book. I never go through any day without reading the Word.
What is happening with modern Christianity? Should it be redirected from the religious East to the secularized West?
It’s already happening. The church has done better under persecution than it has done under prosperity. And right now nations like China, Korea, India are sending missionaries to the world. And in the West, particularly in America religion, Christianity became a business; too much money, too much comfort. And we made Jesus Christ preach a prosperity Gospel. It’s very deadly because it makes you worship prosperity rather than Christ. I have very little hope for the way the wealthy church is in America. Unless we learn to live sacrificially and with a Cross before us we will also ruin the Gospel. One good thing about that – America has been a very generous nation. They have very tender hearts to needs of the world. And that comes from the Gospel. But giving your money is not a substitute for giving your heart.
If the church doesn’t do what it’s called to do than this place will be taken by something else. And it’s so obvious that recently the place of church has been taken by museums of modern art. Do you agree?
It’s true. Nature does not like vacuum, it’s the same with a soul. Poetry, literature, art – they come from the soul. And if you do not have a godly vision you will have a vision of chaos. And so, if the church is not meeting that need people will go somewhere else. It’s sad when that happens but that’s not the first time it has happened. In the Old Testament when they lost the Book of the Law it was lost in the House of God. Joseph and Mary went to the temple to worship, and they lost Jesus. Pilate stood in front of Jesus, and said, ‘What is the truth?’ but did not wait for the answer, and he left. Sometimes you lose God in the most obvious places. And so, people dig out different wells from which to drink.
Very often prophecies are being used to manipulate people, especially prophecies about the end times. What are the signs that tell us about the end of the world?
Jesus was asked when the world would end. It should have been very easy for Him to answer to put fear into their hearts. But He said that time was not disclosed. He did give the signs that would come. He said there would be many wars, earthquakes, natural disasters; people will be lovers of themselves, they will be pursuing greed and shameful things. But He told to always live as if that could happen at any moment. He also said the Gospel will be preached to every kingdom. I don’t think this happened yet. So, we live as if Christ will return at any moment. But we do not ignore tomorrow. When people use prophetic ideas to manipulate people we have to be careful about that. Because He is the God of peace, and we live with that peace and hope that whenever He comes we should be ready. But I live thinking of my children and my grandchildren. I want to make the world a better place for them.
Primiritel Magazine (www.primiritel.ru)
Russian Church of Christians of Evangelical Faith